(December 29, 2005 -- 03:01 PM EST // link)

It's not too early to start thinking about it: what is the president going to say in his state of the union address? what claims will he make, fraudulent or otherwise? And what will the alternative be?

-- Josh Marshall

(December 29, 2005 -- 01:49 PM EST // link)

A couple quick follow-ups on the Abramoff article in the Post today.

First, there's this passage ...

DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close, according to associates of both men.

"Personally close" can mean a lot of things. And what it means in the often-inherently-phony world of politics is anyone's guess. But in this context I take the passage above to mean that though they had politics and political money ties, it was always an arm's length relationship on a personal level.

That's not what I hear in talking to people. In fact, I have an February 2003 email between Abramoff and Christine DeLay in which they discuss a private dinner with the DeLays, the Abramoffs and Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin and his wife Irene the night before. The email makes it sound the two couples were close and socialized together.

Remember too that back in August the Post ran an unrebutted but now endlessly discredited claim that DeLay had washed his hands of Abramoff in early 2001 after first hearing about the murder of Abramoff's erstwhile business partner Gus Boulis.

Certainly, claims that the two men weren't close would be entirely self-serving from the DeLay side; on the Abramoff side, that's less clear. But for the reasons above and others, call me unconvinced.

Then there's this passage ...

Abramoff wallowed in his access, real and imagined. When his crack administrative assistant Susan Ralston bolted for a position with White House political adviser Karl Rove, Abramoff told colleagues he had gotten her the job even though it was Ralston's old boss, Reed, who made it happen, her former colleagues said.

Is this really credible? Abramoff was tight with Rove. And 2000/2001 when just on the cusp of Abramoff's glory days when he was a huge player in DC. And his right-hand-woman (she was a key player for both men; the title understates her role) went to work for Rove when the Bush administration came in.

We know that Abramoff worked assiduously and fairly successfully to get colleagues and business associates of his into key positions in the administration for obvious reasons. And his key assistant goes and becomes the gatekeeper for Karl Rove. But he had nothing to do with it.

I just don't think that passes the laugh test.

It was Ralph Reed? He's close to both men of course. And perhaps he put in a good word for her too. But somehow I figure the guy who'd worked with her closely for years would be the more likely person to have secured the appointment than someone like Reed she'd never worked with.

And look at the phrasing. "Ralston bolted for a position with White House political adviser Karl Rove." Apparently she just couldn't get away from him quick enough.

Of course her "former colleagues" say that Abramoff didn't have anything to do with getting her the job! Ralston's now at the center of -- if not necessarily implicated in -- two on-going criminal investigations. She doesn't need any more trouble than she's already got.

I don't know the specifics of how she went from Abramoff to Rove. But I think more than self-serving testimony from Ralston's proxies is needed to jettison the common understanding that Jack got her the job.

-- Josh Marshall


(December 29, 2005 -- 02:07 AM EST // link)

The bamboozlement makes it half way around the world before ... well, this from the San Antonio Express-News ...

Media reports that U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay had convinced the state's highest court to hear his appeal were as widely circulated as they were, well, wrong.

Justices for the Texas Court Criminal Appeals agreed merely to consider hearing DeLay's money laundering case. They never said they would accept the case, said Edward Marty, the court's general counsel.

The erroneous media reports, which the San Antonio Express-News published in a wire story and displayed online, come from DeLay's spokesman, Kevin Madden, in an e-mail sent to reporters Tuesday evening, after courts had closed for the night.

“FYI-Breaking news out of Austin, TX,” the e-mail stated. “The state Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to hear Mr. DeLay's habeas motion that was filed at the end of last week. The court has set a one-week deadline for briefs to be filed by the parties involved. The court could essentially decide to end Ronnie Earle's prosecution after hearing this motion and the facts presented.”

Asked about his on-the-fly bamboozlement, Madden told the paper's Lisa Sandberg: "In an effort to be instantaneous, I wasn't precise.....My understanding (of the decision) was correct. The way I relayed it wasn't."

-- Josh Marshall

(December 29, 2005 -- 12:59 AM EST // link)

I thought that in my years as a reporter I had navigated some fairly treacherous terrain. Then I tried making my way through the hectic ridiculousness that is the New York commercial real estate market. My God. Not that I'm trying to become a mini-Donald Trump or anything, just looking for a little slice of office space for our expanded operation here at TPM. But it ain't easy.

For instance, on one of my first jaunts into this square foot jungle, I went to see a space listed at 750 sq. ft.

That seemed like a decent amount of space for four people -- me and three employees, all in one open work area. So after working out some preliminaries over the phone, I made my way down to the neighborhood in question, found the appointed building and ambled up the staircase to get my first look at the new TPM world headquarters. After a bit more smalltalk with the landlord I found myself in a room that struck me as, well ... somehow very cramped.

I started making my way around the stretched out little box not knowing quite what to make of it. And as I looked around for things to look like I was looking at (not as simple a proposition as you might think) and questions I thought I should think to ask, we came to the conclusion that we were in a room that measured 30 ft. by 9 ft.

"Of course, you know, you lose a little square footage in commercial space," the man assured me with a sort of trailing off cadence.

At this point, I should say that I quickly banged out the numbers in my head, which suggested this space was really rather closer to 270 sq.ft rather than the advertised 750 sq.ft. Should, but unfortunately can't since the whole experience had left me in such a cloud of weirdly-self-inflicted bamboozlement that somehow it wasn't till I was back on the street making my way back home that I progressed from thinking something just wasn't quite right about the place to a more mathematically-grounded realization that there had been a certain lack of truth in advertising about the aforementioned square feet.

In any case, now a couple weeks later I'm nothing like the commercial real estate naif I was then. I'm well-versed in the distinction between rentable and usable square feet. Only a rube wouldn't know that it's standard to include less-than-easily-utilized space such as the walls of the building, stairways you have no access to and sometimes even patches of land in nearby counties when tabulating 'rentable' square feet.

Anyway, live and learn.

What I choose to report on and write about here at TPM has always, to a great degree, tracked my own interests and obsessions and curiosities. So if you start noticing posts on sub-letting or loft space or the low-end Manhattan office space market popping up, you'll know what went wrong.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 29, 2005 -- 12:26 AM EST // link)

The Washington Post has a lengthy backgrounder on Jack Abramoff on the front page of Thursday's paper. My main criticism of the piece would be that the authors do too little to place Abramoff's ascent into the context of the consolidation of Republican control over K Street and the operation of the DeLay Machine in the House of Representatives. I don't think the one can be properly understood without the other.

Still, not every article has to cover every topic or angle. And Schmidt and Grimaldi manage to bring together a great deal of information about Abramoff into a compelling narrative. Anybody interested in understanding this story should read this piece.

-- Josh Marshall


(December 28, 2005 -- 04:49 PM EST // link)

DeLay gets a friendly ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is currently appealing a lower court ruling that threw out one of the counts he brought against REp. Tom DeLay (R-TX). But however the appeal is decided, the delay itself threatens to push the actual trial date well into 2006 and probably past the point of no return for the former Majority Leader.

In response, DeLay filed a speedy trial motion before the Court of Criminal Appeals. And today the Court, which Roll Call's John Bresnahan reports (sub.req.) is made up of nine Republican judges, gave Earle a week to file a brief in response to DeLay's request.

According to Bresnahan the Court "could either throw out the charges entirely or order an immediate trial for DeLay in the money-laundering case."

-- Josh Marshall

(December 27, 2005 -- 03:40 PM EST // link)

Earlier in the history of this site, I used to periodically recommend books -- usually works of popular history. So here's another: The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians by Peter Heather. I'm only about half way through it. But I've read more than enough to recommend it.

This topic is a perennial. But it's also one that is almost hopelessly encrusted with myth and overworn interpretations which make the period very hard to get a hold of or approach in any fresh way. Heather's book is crisply and engagingly written. And it's quite accessible even for someone with no background or knowledge of the period. He manages to bring together both the high history of emperors and battles with the longer-term changes in the societies and economies of the German and other 'barbarian' peoples from central and eastern Europe who dismantled the western Empire in the 5th century.

If you're the sort who likes finding a thick book about some distant period in the past that you can lose yourself in for a spell, try this one out.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 27, 2005 -- 01:44 PM EST // link)

You've probably heard the name Jim Marcinkowski. He has been one of a handful of retired CIA officers who've stood up publicly over the last couple years to take on those in and out of the administration who say that outing Valerie Plame was no big deal. Now he's running for Congress in Michigan's 8th District against incumbent Mike Rogers (R).

My recollection is that Rogers was a Social Security phase-out wobbler, last time we checked.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 27, 2005 -- 12:26 PM EST // link)

There are so many complicated details of what is happening today in Iraq, as various factions and sectarian groupings vie for position in the aftermath of this month's national election. But one clear and bright spot does stand out -- the utter and seemingly limitless humiliation of Ahmad Chalabi.

Last week we noted Chalabi's feebler-than-feeble election results, which showed him coming in well under 1% of the national vote and facing a complete shut-out from the new national assembly.

Apparently, though, Chalabi was hoping for something of a rebound from ballots cast by Iraqis living overseas.

Seems that didn't pan out, though.

The Washington Post reports that preliminary results of the "special vote" -- which includes Iraqis living abraod, in hospitals, the army and in prisons -- showed Chalabi bagged a mere 0.89 percent of the vote.

The Post also notes that without seat in the Assembly, Chalabi would presumably also not be able to join the government, thus perhaps limiting at least to some degree his ability to preen, pose and posture in the western press.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 26, 2005 -- 09:09 PM EST // link)

TPM Reader CS checks in ...

That Post story was a great example of bogus even-handedness in action. And Sunstein's statement that Yoo doesn't deserve vilification is an example of the over-clubbiness of the legal profession.

Set aside Yoo's book on presidential powers, which is tendentious and unconvincing but well-written. His "torture memo" is inarguably a horrific piece of legal reasoning, which uses lawyerly cleverness to evade the plain sense of words and endorse the policies his superiors wanted endorsed. It's an utter embarrassment, by any measure.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 26, 2005 -- 12:20 PM EST // link)

For more on John Yoo, see this appropriately-titled piece in the New York Review of Books, "What Bush Wants to Hear".

-- Josh Marshall

(December 26, 2005 -- 12:13 PM EST // link)

Atrios has a good catch here about Trent Lott, whether he'll retire next year, whether that will hand the Senate to the Dems and what it all might mean.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 26, 2005 -- 10:52 AM EST // link)

The Post has a profile of John Yoo out today. Cass Sunstein, while disagreeing with Yoo, calls him "a very interesting and provocative scholar" who "doesn't deserve the demonization to which he has been subject." And Yoo himself makes the fair point that he himself was hardly in a position, as DOJ lawyer, to make policy.

All that aside, there's something deeply pernicious about this man's work. The Post gives some sense of the cadre of lawyers and ideological incubators he comes out of. Provocative as Yoo's ideas may be, they are deeply authoritarian. And his claim that there is any historical basis for such absolute presidential authority is laughable. I try not to get too deep into legal arguments because I lack the necessary expertise. But on the historical points I'm on my own professional ground.

Democracy can be lost in a lot of ways. This is one of them. These theories of executive power deserve a thorough airing and discussion quite apart from the particular abuses they may have been used to justify.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 25, 2005 -- 01:12 PM EST // link)

John Yoo stepped back in the debate over presidential power recently with this opinion column which appeared first in the Los Angeles Times.

But read it and tell if me if I'm not right to think that he has taken the opportunity not to engage this debate he's helped spawn but to duck it.

Yoo, you'll remember, was the author of several key Justice Department memos from Bush's first term that, taken together, claim that the president's war powers give him a virtually untrammeled power to act as he believes in the best interests of the security of the nation, even if in doing so he breaks the laws of the country itself.

Yet in Yoo's column he doesn't even explore the complicated issue of how and where Congress might constrain the president's war-making power, particularly in areas that are not clearly or traditionally in the military realm. Instead, he chooses to attack a claim no one is making -- that the president cannot use the military until the Congress makes a formal declaration of war.

This is an argument that has no significant following in political or legal-constitutional circles. Simply stated, no one believes anything like that. It's just phony. And he builds from this phony argument to a lengthier straw man version of that which the president's critics make against him.

As in this passage ...

Liberal intellectuals believe that Bush's exercise of his commander-in-chief power has exceeded his constitutional authority and led to a quagmire in Iraq. If only Congress had undertaken the solemn process of declaring war, they have argued, faulty intelligence would have been smoked out, the debate would have produced consensus, and the American people would have been firmly committed to the ordeal ahead.

This is no more than a nonsense proceduralism version of the debate we're now having in this country.

Who has said that a declaration of war against Iraq would have made any difference to anything? No one says that. No one says anything like that.

With respect to war powers, the debate we're having is not about where they begin, as Yoo disingenuously suggests, but where they end.

With faulty intelligence and national consensus, the disputes are not procedural but substantive -- whether the president and his chief aides were simply dishonest with the public and the Congress in presenting information about Iraq, its war fighting potential and its ambitions, whether they gamed the country into war to create a fait accompli that would make the debate moot. These aren't issues of proceduralism and box-checking but tough substance -- whether President Bush betrayed his oath and whether he can be held accountable.

Yoo's diversionary OpEd suggests he's not eager to confront either of these questions. You'd think he'd use the moment to show his stuff; but Yoo doesn't.

Late Update: TPM Reader BF says Yoo was likely responding to this article in the Atlantic by Les Gelb and TPMCafe's Anne-Marie Slaughter. Seems likely he was. But I stick with my critique. If Yoo is willing to talk now he should talk about what's at issue. Courage is a good quality for those who talk a lot about war.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 24, 2005 -- 08:07 PM EST // link)

Department of article ledes you wish weren't so ironic, Xmas edition (courtesy of the NYT) ...

The commander of American-run prisons in Iraq says the military will not turn over any detainees or detention centers to Iraqi jailers until American officials are satisfied that the Iraqis are meeting United States standards for the care and custody of detainees.

To a new year with our national honor cleansed and restored.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 24, 2005 -- 02:00 PM EST // link)

I'm not sure whether or not I'll be posting again today. But in case not, I wanted to wish those who are celebrating a Merry Christmas, both to those for whom it is a central religious celebration and to those for whom it is a secular holiday of giving and togetherness. To each of you, our best.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 24, 2005 -- 01:45 PM EST // link)

Knight-Ridder reports that "An Iraqi court has ruled that some of the most prominent Sunni Muslims who were elected to parliament last week won't be allowed to serve because officials suspect that they were high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party."

The article goes on to say that two members of Iyad Allawi's slate (the Iraqi National List) are likely to be rejected as are five members of the Iraqi Accord Front (see this list for brief descriptions of the different electoral slates).

I'll wait to hear what Juan Cole and others say about this. But from the outside it certainly seems like this would intensify the perceived marginalization of Sunnis and dominance of Shi'a religious parties that already seems to be the main result of the election.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 24, 2005 -- 12:58 PM EST // link)

Am I in the wrong line of work?

I've been involved in blogging in a pretty direct way for more than five years. And that has given me a front row seat for all sorts of developments in this developing medium. That continues to be the case now as I work to expand this original site into a small network of sites, each with a particular focus building from the first -- tpmcafe.com, tpmmuckraker.com, etc.

Anyway, I guess maybe I've had seats so close to the stage that I've missed a lot of what was going on in the seats just behind me or perhaps a section or two back.

For instance, 'blog consultants'? Who knew there was such a thing?

With so much buzz and activity brewing around blogs these days and so many 'old media' companies launching their own blogs, I guess it only makes sense that a minor trade would have sprung up of people who will provide good counsel and advice on how to blog and how to set up blogs and, I have to assume, various blogging best practices, whatever those might be.

But it just hadn't occurred to me that such a species of consultants existed.

I first heard the phrase a month or so ago when a reader wrote in to ask whether I could recommend a qualified blog consultant to help his law firm set up a blog.

There's actually a sort of funny side note here. The way I learned how to do web design was that when I was in graduate school I had a web design company that specialized in designing web sites for law firms. (By 'company', of course, I mean me with some help from my then-girlfriend.) That was my way of supplementing my meager graduate student stipend and wages.

In any case, some quick googling just found me this outfit that apparently specializes in setting up blogs just for law firms. (Note: No, that's not a recommendation; just found them on Google and linked them as an example.)

In case you're wondering, no, there's no particular reason I'm telling you all of this. It's just a reflection as we continue to work on our own expansion, all done with self-blog-consulting, I assure you.

Once again, for the more than 2500 of you who contributed to our fundraiser, again, a very sincere thank you. Most of you have heard back from us. The rest of you will shortly. Those of you who mailed in checks, it's taking us a bit longer to get 'thank yous' back. But you'll hear from us soon.

We're now building the TPMmuckraker.com site, almost done with our redesign of TPMCafe, half way done with hiring our two reporter-bloggers and now busily (and I mean really busily) looking for New York office space to house our new expanded operation.

We'll keep you posted as our progress continues.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 23, 2005 -- 02:46 PM EST // link)

As near as facts can be ascertained on this matter, I'd like to hear from people who can shed some light on the results of the election in Iraq -- results which may bring to a head the simmering tensions threatening to tear the state apart.

According to this article in the Washington Post, a rejectionist coalition of parties who together won an estimated 80 seats in the 275-seat National Assembly are threatening to boycott the new parliament and, implicitly at least, to support armed opposition.

As you know, the unofficial election results show an overwhelming win for Shia' religious parties. And pretty much everyone seems to be claiming that the elections were marred by widespread fraud.

So, my question is: Is there any reason to believe that there was a level of fraud in the election sufficient to make a meaningful difference in the results? Or is this just sour grapes? On first blush at least the results seem like the result of the fact the Shia' make up the majority of Iraqis and are perhaps better organized; and the Sunnis' electoral representation was diminished by their lack of participation in the last two elections. But perhaps there was widespread fraud.

Either way, there's no real way to get a handle on what's happening without some relatively independent analysis of whether these allegations of fraud are legitimate.

And by legitimate, I mean, not just any evidence of fraud, but fraud widespread and systematic enough to have measurably affected the result. (Any fledgling democracy will have some fraud in its early elections.)

Anyone have a good answer?

-- Josh Marshall

(December 23, 2005 -- 12:05 PM EST // link)

I'm hoping we'll be able to dig more deeply into the particulars later. But I want to call your attention to three articles today by Copley News Service's Jerry Kammer in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. The articles focus on Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and the web of ties he maintains with friendly lobbyists and the federal money he steers in their direction through congressional 'earmarks'.

The articles focus specifically on the relationship between Rep. Lewis and former (and mildly disgraced) Rep.-turned-lobbyist Bill Lowery (R-CA).

Lowery got tagged in the House Bank scandal from 1992 and before that he had uncomfortably close ties with a Texas S&L; huckster named Don Dixon. And he got forced into a primary against our friend Duke Cunningham. Eventually he had to bow out of the race in favor of Duke since he was the too ethically-compromised of the two candidates. So that gives you some sense of where we're at on this one. After leaving Congress he decided to go into the lobbying biz full-time.

This piece explains how Lowery and Lewis then went, in effect, into business together.

Cozy little world those So Cal Republicans are living in.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 23, 2005 -- 12:26 AM EST // link)

No one left to bamboozle?

What happened here exactly? In recent months there was a new storyline afoot. Whatever his previous hijinks, whatever lack of a constituency he may have had in pre-invasion Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi, through shmoozing and patronage and guile, had managed to make himself into a political force to be reckoned with in the new Iraq. It even seemed possible he might emerge as a compromise candidate for Prime Minister in the new government.

Apparently, it just wasn't meant to be.

NBC reports that Chalabi got less than 1% of the vote in his sometimes country. And the article at the MSNBC website contains some choice schadenfreudious electoral nuggets.

Out 2.5 million votes cast in Baghdad, Chalabi clocked in at a rather anemic 8,645 votes. Anbar province, the center of the Sunni insurgency, was never going to be Chalabi's base. But you'd have thought there might be more than 113 voters who'd vote for the guy. The list on: Basra, .34 percent of the vote.

So what happened? Was there really any reason to believe that Chalabi would do substantially better than this feeble result?

-- Josh Marshall

(December 22, 2005 -- 05:56 PM EST // link)

Every so often a reader writes in and asks this question. And it's a pretty good one. So here goes: When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaida was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since election day.

Through 2004, of course, critics of the administration routinely questioned whether the frequency and timing of the various terror alerts were not all or in part for political effect.

How do we explain what appears to be a night and day difference between the year prior to November 2004 and the year since in terms of terror alerts and scares?

-- Josh Marshall

(December 22, 2005 -- 11:22 AM EST // link)

Several readers have pointed my attention to the ruling that came down yesterday in the 4th Circuit barring the government from transferring Jose Padilla from military to civilian law enforcement custody. It's a harsh rebuke of the administration's legal tactics. And what caught my eye is that the author of the ruling is J. Michael Luttig, the darling of conservative jurisprudence and a top candidate for the Supreme Court.

As Jerry Markon puts it in the Washington Post, "In issuing its denial, the court cited the government's changing rationale for Padilla's detention, questioning why it used one set of arguments before federal judges deciding whether it was legal for the military to hold Padilla and another set before the Miami grand jury."

Reading over the reportage of what happened yesterday, it seems clear that Luttig and the other two members of the panel were less perturbed about civil liberties issues per se (Luttig wrote the decision that allowed the government to hold Padilla indefinitely as an 'enemy combatant') than the administration's cynical willingness to jump from legal argument to legal argument, from one set of facts to another, as the needs of the moment dictate.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 22, 2005 -- 10:18 AM EST // link)

With Jack Abramoff apparently ready to deal and kick his eponymous probe into high gear, it's worth clarifying a key point about criminality and campaign contributions. As you can see with all the politicians unburdening themselves of Abramoff-related campaign contributions, Abramoff and his clients spread money around pretty widely. And this has led to some misunderstandings -- some intentional -- about what this case is about.

A comparison to the Duke Cunningham case is instructive.

At the beginning of the Duke scandal it was clear that he'd gotten a lot of campaign contributions from the likes of Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade. When all the facts came out, though, those contributions were revealed as little more than window dressing, an early ante up for the real bribery and pay-offs. (There's actually a surreal comedy in some of the details of the Duke case since he was making mind-numbingly precise disclosure filings about travel and knick-knacks while pocketing 5-figure bribes.)

In any case, I doubt we'll see quite the cartoonish level of bribery that we saw in Cunningham's case. But the underlying pattern will be the same. Abramoff and his clients gave contributions to a lot of people; a substantially smaller subset of those people were actively on the take. And it's from those quarters that you hear the sound -- metaphoric if not real -- of muscles constricting with the news of Abramoff's impending cooperation.

-- Josh Marshall

(December 22, 2005 -- 12:23 AM EST // link)

The leaks to Anne Kornblut continue. Abramoff nears a deal to testify against "at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members."

-- Josh Marshall




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